The murder of Celestina Christmas: a Christmas tale pt 8

A little girl’s body, her throat cut, found in a cellar in respectable Linton Street, Finsbury. Readers of the Standard on 19 February, 1856, would already have an idea of who might have murdered her, as I wrote about in my last post: the respectably-dressed, short, young married couple who lived at the murder scene: Charles and Celestina Sommer.

The newspaper report of the previous day’s proceedings at Clerkenwell Police Court continued with the evidence given by the Sommers’ servant girl, Rachel Mount (also spelled Mont or Munt). She was the one, you’ll remember, who’d told the police about the suspected murder.

The reporter seemed quite taken with her, calling her “a most interesting little girl, about 14 years of age, who gave her evidence in the most clear and artless manner”.

Replica Victorian kitchen, Museum of Lincolnshire Life

Replica Victorian kitchen, Museum of Lincolnshire Life *

Rachel told the court that on Saturday her mistress (Celestina Sommer) had gone out, telling her to go to bed (in the kitchen, where, like many servants in those days, she slept). Rachel didn’t obey, but sat up “making an apron”, but when she heard Celestina come in she put out the candle and hurried into bed.

“I heard my mistress come into the passage, and she had a female with her.” How did she know this? The sound of the shoes? Rachel pretended to be asleep. After going upstairs, Celestina Sommer went into the kitchen and drew the blind at the window down. The report continues:

Part of a newspaper report about the murder of Celestina ChristmasDoes anyone else think that’s odd? Who would want to cut her throat, and why? But back to the story, and I warn you, this is where it gets grisly:

Newspaper report describing the murder of Celestina ChristmasStark and horrific.

Not surprisingly, Rachel didn’t sleep that night. She heard Charles Sommer coming in at one in the morning (where’d he been? That’s quite late). Rachel then said that her mistress had changed her clothes after coming home:

More of the report about the murder of Celestina Christmas

Bizarre behaviour, waking the supposedly sleeping servant and talking about wages. Perhaps she was checking whether the girl was acting in a way that might suggest she’d heard something. Was Celestina in some kind of shock? Or is this a further example of her mental instability?

Rachel then answered a question from the magistrate, William Corrie:

Short newspaper extractShe also said that she’d seen the murdered child once before:

Newspaper report on the servant seeing Celestina Christmas beforeWeird and scary stuff. And puzzling. It’s possible that the box with three clasps – very secure – had been holding money to pay my 3x great grandmother, Julia Harrington, for little Celestina’s keep. Maybe Rachel hadn’t seen the older Celestina take it when she and the child went out.

But she saw the large stone wrapped in a cloth. Very sinister. And how did Rachel know that it was a stone inside the material?

Was Celestina Sommer planning to kill her daughter on that earlier occasion? Is that what Rachel is implying?

I must admit I find this entire story as confusing as it is horrific. Why would little Celestina say that someone wanted to cut her throat? And why would her mother then threaten to do it? What made Celestina Sommer go back into the kitchen and walk around, talking to herself? That was risky behaviour.


And the two big questions: where was the knife she used to cut her daughter’s throat? Rachel didn’t mention it, though her evidence was full of other details, like the box with three clasps and the Lucifers (matches).

And why did Celestina Sommer want to kill her anyway? Because the girl had been ‘telling lies’ – but what lies? Remember that we know they were mother and daughter, but Rachel didn’t know this, and nor did the court. So had little Celestina been giving away the secret of her birth?

One thing’s obvious. Celestina Sommer was emotionally unstable. Perhaps, to use Victorian language, she was ‘mad’.

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions here, but I do find it puzzling. Of course, the newspaper report has been edited – I can’t imagine that Rachel, under pressure and perhaps frightened, spoke so eloquently. But even so, it’s a bizarre scenario, as well as a horrible one.

What do you think?

Next time I’ll cover the last part of the newspaper report.

* Picture credits:
Newspaper extracts: The British Library Board, via Findmypast
Victorian kitchen: Green Lane via Creative Commons

Catch up with A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Posted in London, Trial | Tagged , , , , , | 23 Comments

The body in the cellar: a Christmas tale pt 7

Clerkenwell Police Court was crowded on Monday, 18 February, 1856, when two prisoners were charged with the murder of a young girl – the Islington Murder, as it came to be called.

Some of the spectators were neighbours of the prisoners, others would have come because of the grisly story in the previous day’s paper – and then there were the usual gawkers who just enjoyed a good courtroom drama.

The police court was in Bagnigge Wells Rd (now King’s Cross Rd). It was demolished later in the 19th century, but here’s a sketch of the beginning of a typical day there in 1883:

Here by ten o’clock in the morning assembles a motley crowd, consisting by far the greater part of women, some who have come to see the “fun,” just as they would go to any other public entertainment… There is plenty of room for the Magistrate, and for counsel, reporters, and witnesses; but as much cannot be said as regards the accommodation provided for such of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects as may choose to avail themselves of their right to be present. The space set apart for this purpose may be, perhaps, a little larger than the interior of an ordinary omnibus; and, if like the vehicle mentioned, it were decently provided with seats, would comfortably contain fifteen or twenty persons. As everybody is compelled to stand, however, with close packing and tight squeezing, the box will hold as many as thirty…
“Silence!” Justice occupies the judgment seat.”
A wonderful picture-gallery the mind of a metropolitan magistrate would be, supposing it retained an impress of all the odd types of civilised humanity that are constantly cropping up before him for his contemplation. (From Mysteries of Modern London)

But today the drama was much more exciting than the usual parade of thieves and drunks. Today there was a murdered child and a foreigner. What true Victorian could fail to be horrified – and thrilled?

London’s Standard newspaper again printed the story:

Standard Islington Murder story, 1st paragraphA very thick foreign red moustache? Short in stature? Obviously dodgy characters.

You’ll have noticed that they call Celestina ‘Celestria Somner’. This is one of several inconsistencies in newspaper reports of the story. But perhaps the journalist was scribbling down the details in great haste and hadn’t had the time, or inclination, to check his facts.

It’s more interesting, perhaps, that the Sommers ‘appeared quite unconcerned’.

1850s Peeler (policeman) like the ones who found Celestina's body

1850s Peeler (policeman) *

Then it was time for the police to give their statements. Inspector Hatton of the Metropolitan Police’s N (Islington) Division said that he and Sergeant Edward Townsend had gone to 18 Linton Street (where the Sommers lived) at about half past four on the previous day.

A girl of about 14 opened the door. The policemen walked along the hall and saw Celestina Sommer coming up the kitchen stairs. When she saw them, she asked: “What do you want?”

Insp Hatton said: “We will tell you after we have looked into your cellar.”

“Good God! What do want to do that for?” Celestina said.

Then Charles Sommer came out of the parlour and all five of them went down the stairs to the kitchen.

Sgt Townsend got a light and went into the cellar. Soon after he came out and said that the body was there. Insp Hatton went to look:

Inspector Hutton's report on finding Celestina Christmas's bodyCelestina and Charles ‘declined’ to say anything, or ask the inspector any questions. At the time, prisoners conducted their own defence and had the right to query the prosecution witnesses.

Then Sgt Townsend gave his statement. It’s slightly different from Hatton’s, but they agree on the main details. He said that the two policemen had gone to Linton St at about four. They asked the servant girl what her master and mistress’s names were. I’ll let the Standard take up the story:

Sgt Townsend's evidence about Celestina Christmas's murderSgt Townsend then went back to Linton St to search the house. In the bedroom, upstairs at the front, he found ‘an old black gown, with spots of blood on it’. Someone had tried to wash the blood out. Then he and ‘the surgeon’, who hasn’t been mentioned before, went down to the cellar and saw that the door was ‘spotted with blood’. There were also ‘marks of blood’ on the kitchen door and a spot on the servant’s pillow.

That was the end of Townsend’s evidence, as reported in the paper.

The magistrate, William Corrie Esq (1806-81), a solicitor and barrister, asked the Sommers again if they had any questions.

Final newspaper extract for this #victorianmurder post The court then went on to hear the evidence of the Sommers’ servant girl. Because it’s very long, I’m going to cover it in my next post.

But before then, I’ve got some photos to show you.

New houses at 2-26 Linton St in 2015 * Copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

2-26 Linton St in 2015 *

This week I went sleuthing with my camera to Linton St, scene of the murder.

18 Linton St no longer exists. The houses from nos 26-2 have been demolished. In its place is a newly-built terrace of houses, part of many rebuilding projects that stretches along Regents Canal.

The modern no 18 is even newer than the Sommers’ house was when they moved in.

Map of Linton St and nearby, 1868 (Weller)

Linton St and nearby, 1868 *

Here’s a map from 1868 showing Linton St as it would have been at the time of the murder. I’ve marked where no 18 would have been – more or less – with an appropriately blood-red dot.

I love the details on this map – you can even see the separate terraces. It’s by Edward Weller and is thought of as one of the best maps of the mid-19th century, and certainly the largest. If you enjoy old maps as much as I do, the website’s well worth a visit.

Here’s the end of the original Linton St houses that would’ve been near the Sommers’:

Old houses in Linton St. Copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

Old houses in Linton St *

And I’ll end with a peek into nearby basements to give you a flavour of the murder scene. Though I haven’t been poking around cellars, and many of the basements have been converted into what look like pleasant flats.

Linton St basement copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

Linton St basement *

Basement, Linton St, copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

Linton St basement *

Further reading:

Crime & Punishment in Islington (PDF)
Victorian Crime and Punishment
Looking for records of a criminal or convict (TNA guide)

* Picture credits:

Newspaper extracts: The British Library Board, via Findmypast
1850s Peeler: Hoodinski, via Wikimedia (public domain)
Weller’s map of Linton St: Mapco
Photographs of Linton St: © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2015. If anyone wants to re-use them that’s fine, if you ask me first! And attribute them, with a link, please. See copyright policy in the right-hand side bar

Catch up with A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Posted in Genealogy, London | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

A horrible and mysterious murder: a Christmas tale pt 6

Londoners reading their local newspaper, the Standard, on Monday, 18 February, 1856, would have been brought up short by this headline, tucked away at the bottom of page three under the ship news:

Newspaper headline: Dreadful murder at IslingtonSome would have been shocked, perhaps afraid or angry. But others would’ve read on with the avidity that only a true-crime thrill could bring to the mid-Victorian mind.

Newspaper report of the 'Islington murder'Horrible and mysterious! A foreigner! Obscurity! Those of us who think our tabloids scrape the bottom of the barrel with their scandal stories today might be surprised to know that similar barrels have been scratched at for centuries.

You might have heard about the Penny Dreadfuls, popular cheap sheets telling supposedly true crime stories from the 1860s onwards. Their predecessors, the Penny Bloods, were perhaps based more on real violent crimes, and were guzzled by the thrill-seeking public. And nothing was as delicious as a murder, whether Maria Marten’s or the ones committed by Sweeney Todd.

The British Library describes it as ‘murder as entertainment’, and historian Rosalind Crone writes about ‘scaffold culture’ and the ‘cult of the murderer’.

Mrs Lovatt's pie shop (Sweeney Todd) #victorianmurder

Mrs Lovatt’s pie shop (Sweeney Todd)

And the so-called Islington murder was committed at the height of this bloodthirsty era.

The story in this (second) edition of the Standard is slightly different from later ones, so I’ll give you a quick summary, since this was all that was known (or at least all the journalists were able to get out of the police).

The servant girl said that, about 11 o’clock at night on Saturday, she was in bed and heard ‘considerable scuffling and noise in the house, followed by the sound of screaming, which she thought was caused by her mistress quarrelling with the supposed niece and locking her up in the cellar.’

She pretended to be asleep when her mistress came up to her bed and ‘press[ed] a hand over her face’.

Next morning ‘her suspicions were… redoubled’ when the ‘niece’ didn’t appear. That evening, she slipped out of the house and ‘bursting into tears related to her companion the above incidents’. This person – and who knows why she was conveniently on the street – advised her to go to the police, who investigated and found the murdered girl.

The report ends with the fact that the body was left in the cellar ‘awaiting a coroner’s inquest’ and that ‘the house [had] been taken possession of by the police’.

Later that day large crowds gathered at Clerkenwell Police Court to get a look at the two accused, and the story was fleshed (ouch) out a lot more, as you’ll read in the next #Victorianmurder post.

Which you won’t have to wait long for this time. I promise.

* Image credits:

Newspaper extracts: The British Library Board, via Findmypast
Penny blood illustration: The Mysteries of London, via

Catch up with A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Posted in Genealogy, London | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

Christmas turns to Sommer: A Christmas tale pt 5

In the last episode, Celestina Elizabeth Christmas’s sisters got married. Celestina was still living with her parents and younger brother Alfred at their house in King Square in Finsbury, north London.

In 1852, at 24, she was still marriageable, but there was the small problem of her illegitimate daughter, also called Celestina, who was being looked after by my 3x great-grandmother, Julia Harrington, in Hackney.

Goldsmiths' House, Hanau

Goldsmiths’ House, Hanau. CC, shared by Pedelecs

What was to be done to marry her off? They’d probably either hope that a man would fall for her and marry her despite the baby, or find someone complaisant enough to take on soiled goods in exchange for a good dowry or a hand-up in his professional life.

Celestina was pretty. Short and slim (‘of spare form’), with fair skin and hair, she looked much younger than she was. She was well-educated, could sing and play the piano, seemed docile, and was generally good wife material – except for her little indiscretion.

It’s reasonable to guess that her parents didn’t plan to trick a suitor by hiding the child forever. Little Celestina was her mother’s liability, and the un-named father hadn’t taken responsibility for the results of his dalliance, so Celestina Elizabeth’s beau would have to know. And she’d already proved she was fertile. Her future husband could confidently expect sons in good time.

Licence for Celestina Christmas and Charles Sommer to marry

Licence for Celestina and Charles to marry *

What luck, then, that her sister Elizabeth Jane had just married a German engraver who had a friend, Charles Sommer, another engraver, who’d settled nearby in the parish of St Mary, Islington.

I’ve found no evidence of whether Charles fell for the older Celestina, or whether her father made him a very good offer. All the records show is that on 10 August, 1854, he got permission to marry her by licence at his local church, St Mary’s.

That’s interesting for two reasons: they were to be married by licence, not banns, and at his church, not the bride’s. Banns were a declaration of a couple’s intention to marry, and had to be read out three times at both bride and groom’s church in the three months before the wedding.

Licences were expensive, and so had social cachet, but they were also a way of getting married in a hurry, and without the couple’s congregations necessarily knowing in advance.

Did paterfamilias William Christmas choose a marriage by banns to show off his wealth? Or did he prefer to avoid making the marriage public knowledge, in case someone caused trouble, or blurted out what should stay unsaid? And was that why the wedding took place at Charles’s local church and not the Christmases’, St Luke’s? What do you think?

Marriage of Celestina Elizabeth Christmas and Charles Sommer

Marriage of Celestina Elizabeth Christmas and Charles Sommer *

The marriage took place two days later and the couple moved into their marital home, 18 Linton St in Islington. You may have noticed that Charles gave this street as his address on the marriage register, above.

Houses in Linton St

Houses in Linton St *

No 18 has since been demolished, but the surviving buildings are neat, classical little houses with two storeys and a basement, just right for a young middle-class couple starting married life. Current prices for a house there now are either side of one and a half million pounds. But that’s London prices for you.

Either Charles Sommer was doing very well as an engraver, or William Christmas helped set his embarrassing daughter up in a respectable home.

So who was this compliant or complacent husband?

Aliens register for the ship Ocean, showing Charles Sommer and Charles Grobe

Aliens register for the ship Ocean *

Charles (or Karl) Sommer had come to London from Hanau in the German state of Hesse in 1849. He’s listed among the ‘Aliens’ in the ship Ocean, sailing from Rotterdam. Next to him on the list is another man from Hanau – Charles Grobe, who was to marry Elizabeth Jane Christmas.

Both listed their profession as ‘graveur’ – engraver. Maybe they’d been friends in Hanau and decided to try their luck in London together; perhaps they met on the ship. At any rate, the two Charleses would end up marrying into the same family.

Hanau’s silverware industry was experiencing a surge at the time. It was later to become notorious for producing antique style silver, with dubious marks, but when the Charleses left this trade hadn’t begun.

Wondering why the two young men left, I thought that they might have found the silver trade overcrowded. Another possibility is that they had to flee after the crushing of the Revolution of 1848.

King Sq, where Celestina Christmas lived, and President St East

King Sq (green dot) and President St E (red) *

By the time of the 1851 census, Charles Sommer was living in a lodging house at 11 President Street East, Finsbury, just round the corner from the Christmas family home in King Square.

The census (see below) shows him as ‘head’ of the household. Perhaps he was responsible for paying Frau von Schiller the rent.

Is it too much to imagine that he chose this place not just because he was living with other German craftsmen, but also because they – or because Celestina – lived there?

Charles Sommer in the 1851 census

Charles (Carl von) Sommer in the 1851 census, two-thirds of the way down *

Charles/Carl seems to have wanted to make himself appear grander by adding a ‘von’ to his name. Or it could have been the census enumerator’s mistake. He’s described as a die sinker, a skill similar to an engraver’s. Maybe he took what metalwork he could get.

I hope I’ve drawn you a well-rounded picture of Charles and Celestina, Mr and Mrs Sommer. Newly married, snug in a well-furnished (more about that later), neat house in Linton St. And so they lived happily ever…

Well, no. Of course not. And I know I’ve made you wait for the gory stuff. Next time, I promise. So as a reward for being so patient, here’s a taster.

Horrible and mysterious murder! Newspaper headline

Picture credits:
Marriage licence and record, aliens register: Ancestry
Census, newspaper headline: Findmypast
Photograph of Linton St: Google street view
Map of King Square and President Street: Mapco

Catch up with the rest of A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Posted in Genealogy, London | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Findmypast freebies this weekend

Good news from Findmypast UK and Findmypast Ireland for this weekend, 6-9 March.

Not only is FMP Ireland free on Saturday and Sunday, but there’s a UK records bonanza lasting from Friday to Monday.

Their press release says:

… between midday on Friday, March 6th and midday on Monday, March 9th (GMT), absolutely everyone will have access to their comprehensive collections of historical records and innovative research tools, including:

  • Over 900 million census records from across the UK, USA and Ireland
  • Passenger lists for ships sailing to and from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA
  • The largest collection of Irish family history records available online

… and the FMP newspaper collection, parish records and all the features the site is known for.

But wait a minute, the Shoestring Genealogist grumbles, I’ve just taken up that half-price sub you told us about. Now everyone’s getting free access. Not fair.

Well, there’s good news for those of us with subscriptions, too. FMP also promises:

Local subscribers granted World access, and World subscribers granted 3 extra days to their subscription

Tasty! And there’s more.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, at 3pm GMT on Sunday 8th March, Findmypast will be hosting a webinar on searching for women in their historical records.

Even the Shoestring Genealogist can’t see anything to grumble about with that.

While I’m waiting for the weekend to come, I’ll be watching the new BBC drama, Banished, Jimmy McGovern’s take on the first convicts in Australia. If you’re in the UK, why not join me? It transmits on BBC2 on Thursday, 5 March at 2100.

Posted in Convicts, Genealogy, Ireland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FMP UK half-price (be quick!), Google Earth Pro free

It’s the weekend! Time to catch up with blogging. Let’s see what the Shoestring Genealogist has for you…

Findmypast UK has a great offer on – a year’s subscription half-price. But be quick – it closes at midnight GMT on Saturday, 21 January. Use the code RATIONING.

I took up a similar offer last July and it’s been well worth the money for researching my UK ancestors.

Thanks to John D Reid of Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections for the tip.

You can be more laid-back about the next Shoestring Genealogist tip. Do you use Google Earth? It’s a great genealogy tool (and fun, too). The good news is that Google Earth Pro is now free.

Thanks to Genealogy in Time for the tip-off, and to Lisa Louise Cooke for the original announcement. Lisa goes through the uses of Google Earth Pro for genealogists. She also hosts a popular video about using Google Earth for genealogy. It’s nearly an hour and a half long, so if you want quick info, Cyndi’s List has plenty of useful links.

I’m a great Google Maps user in my genealogy research, so I’m grateful for the reminder about Google Earth. I wonder what extra insights I could have using it?

Do you use Google Earth for genealogy? Have you got any tips to share with us?

Posted in Genealogy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Christmas tale pt 4 – what next for Celestina Elizabeth?

Welcome back to the Celestina Christmas story. In the previous episode, we left little Celestina (born 1846) living with my ancestors, Thomas and Julia Harrington and their daughters, Hannah and Rebecca (my 2x great-grandmother).

Her mother, Celestina Elizabeth Christmas, was back with her family in their house in King Square, Finsbury, a much more salubrious neighbourhood than the Harringtons’ rented house in the Hackney/Tower Hamlets area of East London.

Whether William Foster Christmas, the older Celestina’s father and a respectable silversmith, and her mother Elizabeth had managed to keep the pregnancy a secret or not I don’t know. But I’m guessing they would have tried to, for the sake of the family’s honour and to keep their daughters marriageable.

Emma Mary Christmas marriage to Charles Grobe

Emma Mary Christmas marriage to Charles Grobe at St Luke, Finsbury *

The eldest surviving Christmas girl, Emma Mary, had married in August 1845, the same year that Celestina Elizabeth became pregnant. Emma’s husband was Henry Thomas Goldham, a nurseryman and son of John Goldham, Gent[lema]n. It looks like a good match.

By this time Celestina was four months pregnant and might have started showing, so perhaps she was sent away, or had an ‘illness’ that meant she had to stay in bed – who knows?

At the time of the 1851 census, the Christmas family was still in King Square in Finsbury. Here they are:

The Christmas family, 1851 census

The Christmas family, 1851 census

There they are, William, his wife Elizabeth, daughter Elizabeth (Jane), son Alfred, Sarah Wilson the servant… wait a minute, where’s Celestina?

Celestina Elizabeth Christmas, 1851 census

Celestina Elizabeth Christmas, 1851 census *

Ah, on the next page, with the other servant. Was this a sign of how she was regarded by her father, or just the enumerator writing down the names in an odd order?

The sister, Elizabeth Jane, married in 1852. At 20 she was five years younger than Celestina, which may have been galling to the older girl, who would’ve expected to be the next to marry – under ‘normal’ circumstances.

Elizabeth’s husband was Charles Grobe, an engraver from Hanau in Germany who’d come over to London via Rotterdam in September 1849. As an engraver, it’s likely that he would’ve come to know William Christmas professionally, and perhaps that’s how he met Elizabeth Jane.

Charles Grobe doesn’t appear in the 1851 census, but since he’s shown arriving back in England in September 1852, it’s possible that he’d gone home to tie up any business he had in Hanau before settling in London for good. His father had a different trade – he was a butcher – so there was no family firm to worry about, but it seems reasonable to think that he’d returned to take a long farewell from his family and friends.

Elizabeth Jane Christmas marriage to Charles Grobe

Elizabeth Jane Christmas marriage to Charles Grobe *

Elizabeth and Charles were married at St Matthew’s Parish Church in City Road on 9 December, 1852, three months after his return. At the time Charles was living near the Christmases, in Goswell Rd, but the couple moved to a newly built house, 18 Murray St, New North Rd.

Murray Grove (was Street)

Murray Grove (was Street), just north of Old Street

The houses there have been replaced with modern buildings and it’s called Murray Grove now. I’d like you to keep it in your mind, because we haven’t finished with the Grobes’ house yet.

The Christmases must’ve been fairly satisfied by now. Two daughters married off, the inconvenient baby a reasonable distance away in Hackney. But what to do with Celestina Elizabeth? Even with her child disposed of, she was still on their hands and getting on a bit at 25. Were they going to be stuck with a spinster?

Enter another young man from Hanau; Grobe’s friend Charles (or Karl) Sommer, also an engraver, who made the journey to England with him back in 1849.

He’s going to be an important part of the story from now on, but as a victim or a villain? That’s for you to decide in the next episode of this #Victorianmurder

* Picture credits:
Parish registers showing marriages and 1851 census: Ancestry
Murray St: Google Maps

Catch up with the rest of A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Posted in Genealogy, London, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

A Christmas tale pt 3 – baby Celestina and the Harringtons

In the last episode of the Celestina Christmas story, we left the older Celestina – born in 1827 – pregnant at the age of 17.

This was a disaster for an unmarried girl. She was now ‘soiled goods’ and unlikely to be able to make a good marriage, if her ‘shame’ was discovered. Celestina Elizabeth Christmas came from a respectable family, and presumably a well-off one since her father was a silversmith. She could have expected to marry well, especially since she was a pretty young woman. But now?

And in the meantime there was the baby to deal with.

Photograph: The Outcast (Richard Redgrave, 1851)

The Outcast (Richard Redgrave, 1851) *

What were the options for a middle-class family in 1845? You’d expect that her father, William, would have done his best to persuade the man who got her pregnant to make an honourable woman of her and marry his baby’s mother.

But this didn’t happen. Maybe the man was already married. Perhaps he’d disappeared. Many years later there were dark hints about his identity which would have prevented their marrying.

So the only option, if she wasn’t sent away (never darken my door again!), was to hide her pregnancy. Then what? The family could keep the baby and pretend it was her mother’s, but Elizabeth (nee Swift) was 50 years old in 1845. Celestina had no married brothers or sisters to take the child in, either.

So the baby would have to be put somewhere where it wouldn’t be associated with the Christmas family. And this is where my ancestors, the Harringtons, enter the story.

All I can tell for sure is that baby Celestina was born on 20 December 1845 at 1 Grove Lane, Hackney, the house where my ancestors were living at the time, and that her birth was registered by Julia Harrington, my maternal 3x great-grandmother, as the “occupier of the house”.

Babptism of Celestina Christmas, 27.1.1846

Celestina’s baptism *

Celestina was baptised just over a month later, on 27 January, 1846, at the church of St John, Hackney. There she is, sandwiched between two babies born to married couples. At least the vicar didn’t write any comment like ‘base’ or ‘illegitimate’, but it was a sad start for the baby girl.

You’ll have noticed that the baptism register has her called Marion Celestine. This is the only record of her being called Marion that I’ve been able to find; usually she’s just Celestina.

But – why was she born at 1 Grove Lane?

Map of Grove Lane (Weller 1868)

Grove Lane (Weller 1868) *

Grove Lane was built up in the 1830s, though a house stood on the corner in 1830 at the time Greenwood’s map of London was published. Its former name was (ominously) Cut Throat Lane and it was renamed Reading Lane in 1913. This is the first address I have for the Harringtons, from the 1841 census. By 1851 they’d moved to Gwynn’s Place in another part of Hackney.

Thomas Harrington, Julia’s husband, was described as a labourer in the 1841 census and on my 2x great-grandmother Rebecca’s baptism record in 1842. The 1851 census has him as a dock labourer. Even though Thomas was down as a policeman in the baptism record of his daughter Catharine in 1834, it’s not clear how his wife would know a middle-class family like the Christmases.

These are the facts: little Celestina was born at the Harringtons’ home and Julia registered her birth. Just over five years later she was still living with the family, entered in the 1851 census as a ‘visitor’. Not a lodger.

Celestina in the 1851 census

Little Celestina in the 1851 census *

Later on in my research I found that Julia was being paid 2/6d a week ‘for [little Celestina’s] keep’. But this still leaves the question of why Celestina Elizabeth went to Julia for her confinement and presumably returned home soon after, leaving the unfortunate evidence of her disgrace behind. At least she was allowed to go home.

Julia was described, during the height of the scandal, as being a ‘baby farmer‘. But there’s no evidence that I can find of this. There’s only one ‘visitor’ in the 1851 census, and in 1841 the only person living with Thomas, Julia and their children is 12-year-old John Russell, who evidence suggests was Julia’s son from her previous marriage. And baby farmers generally charged much more that 10/- a month to keep an unwanted child alive. So if she was a baby farmer, she wasn’t a very successful one.

I may never know how my ancestors became involved in the Celestina Christmas story. Perhaps a Harrington relative was a servant at the Christmases’ house in King Square in Finsbury?

So there little Celestina was, ‘visiting’ the Harringtons, and there with them she stayed (though they moved house again) until 1856, when the tragedy began…


*Picture credits:
Baptism: London Metropolitan Archives, Hackney St John, Register of Baptism, p79/jn1, Item 035, via Ancestry
The Outcast photo: Jacqueline Banerjee for The Victorian Web
Map of Grove Lane from Mapco
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851, TNA, via Findmypast

Catch up with the rest of A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

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We apologise for the delay…

You’ve probably been wondering “when’s the next instalment of the Celestina Christmas story going to be posted?”

Well, it won’t be for a few days yet. And I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Life’s got very busy, with a lot of extra work to do, so I’ve had to prioritise that. (I know, I know, what could be more important than geneablogging?)

And thank you to the people who’ve kindly commented on posts. Again, I haven’t forgotten you – it’s just that I want to be able to get back to you with my full attention.

So please excuse me for a few more days. Once this fortnight is over I’ll be back with the next episode of Celestina. I’ll make it a good ‘un, I promise!

Meanwhile, Aussie mates, are you planning any special projects for Australia Day (26 January)?

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Accentuate the positive: 2014

Happy New Year!

Once again Jill Ball at GeniAus has inspired us to look back on the positive things that have happened in our genealogy journeys during the year that’s gone. I took part in the previous two and find it an uplifting experience.

Here’s my positive genealogy year 2014:

An elusive ancestor I found was

The Jones family, 1841 census

The Jones family, 1841 census

Jenkin JONES, born about 1791 in Llandysul, Cardiaganshire (now Ceredigion). Otherwise known as Jinkin Jones (1841 census) or Jenkins Jones. And probably lurking in the records as Jenkin Johns, somewhere. He’s one of my 3x great grandfathers, on my father’s mother’s side.

An ancestor’s grave I found was

not an ancestor’s grave. It belonged to someone with the right name, Sarah DAVIES, same as my Welsh grandmother’s mother. It was in the right place, the graveyard of the little chapel where many of my family members are buried. She’d even lived in the right house, the 1881 Wales census shows.

But she was the wrong person, and it took finding this headstone to bring me the sudden revelation that either this Sarah Davies had two husbands (my great grandfather, Rhys LLOYD, and William James) or I’d been pursuing someone who is possibly a relative, but not an ancestor. Curses! But also yay! Because now I could stop wasting time on her and find the right Sarah Davies.

An important vital record I found was

John and Elizabeth's marriage

John and Elizabeth’s marriage

The record of the marriage of Elizabeth JONES to John LLOYD (Rhys’s father), which, with the 1841 census record I mentioned, helped me to get on the right track for my Jones ancestors. There are also two witnesses who may provide leads.

Looking for a Jones in Wales? Needle, haystack?

A newly found family member shared

Her excitement at contacting relatives descended from Nicholas DELANEY by starting up a Facebook group for us cousins. It was great to meet some new rellies as well as catching up with the ones I’d met on my own page. Thanks, Cat!

A geneasurprise I received was

Finding out that my HARRINGTON ancestors (Rebecca, Thomas and Julia) from Hackney in East London were involved in what became a Victorian scandal, commented on around the world and mentioned in Parliament. I’m writing a series of posts about the whole story at the moment. Warning: will contain scenes of a gory nature.

My 2014 blog post that I was particularly proud of was

Introducing the Shoestring Genealogist, a new idea for my blog. I know I’m not the only genealogist who has trouble finding the extra cash for my pash. And I love passing on good news and helpful tips – the genealogy community thrives on collaborating and sharing, after all.

So I started a series of occasional posts to let people know about any offers going: cut-price subscriptions, freebies, that sort of thing. I don’t grudge paying for sites like Ancestry and Findmypast; it’s just that without special offers I wouldn’t be able to justify subscribing. Not when bills are so high (looking at the radiator, which I’m snuggled up next to).

It was a new development which gave me a boost just when I needed it, and I hope it’s helpful for other people as well.

My 2014 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was

Sarah Simpson's grave. Photo by Michael Wood

Sarah Marshall’s grave (Michael Wood)

The one about discovering that my 3x great grandmother, convict Sarah MARSHALL (or Simpson), is supposed to haunt Castlereagh General Cemetery near Penrith in New South Wales.

Her grave was vandalised in May this year, along with many others in the cemetery. This horrifying incident rightly hit the headlines and social media and the vandals were caught. Apart from the damage they caused, this was appalling behaviour and no way to treat our ancestors.

Our much-missed Aussie genealogist friend, the late Catherine Crout-Habel, was passionate about protecting ancestral graves. Her daughter is carrying on her blog, and her memory. Thanks, Kirrily.

A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was

Twitter. I love the fact that I can whizz through tweets and see what’s going on, though the ‘new’ Twitter is bulkier, with its emphasis on images.

Time’s short at the moment, so I appreciate being able to see what my top tweeps are up to in a few minutes. Though it’s easy to spend hours playing researching there…

In fact I like it so much I wrote a post about it over on the Worldwide Genealogy blog. I did enjoy making the Twitter bird’s family tree!

A genealogy conference/seminar/webinar from which I learnt something new was

Who Do You Think You Are? Live. It was a chance to put faces to names as well as to learn. Education and fun – perfect.

A great repository/archive/library I visited was

Look! All those books!

Look! All those books! CC, stevecadman


The British Library in London. This year I went to an exhibition on the Georgians, which was enlightening as well as fun. I’ve been learning a lot about the eighteenth century this year, which is why…

 A new history book I enjoyed was

Behind Closed Doors, by Amanda Vickery. I love social history and finding out about everyday life in my ancestors’ days, and Amanda’s book is meticulously researched as well as entertaining.

I’m also hugely enjoying Jerry White’s London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing. They’re both big reads, but crammed with treasures from the archives. Real treats for social historians.

It was exciting to finally meet

Two Aussie geneabloggers I’ve enjoyed talking to online: Helen Smith, of From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard, and Rosemary Kopittke. I met them at Who Do You Think You Are? Live at Olympia in London. Aussie mates won’t be surprised that this was at the Unlock the Past stand, where I also chatted to Alan Phillips and was tickled to learn that he’s Alona Tester‘s dad.

I also went to a seminar by Cassie Mercer of Inside History fame. She had to hurry off so we didn’t get the chance to chat, but it was great to meet her at last. Cassie encouraged me and my mum greatly when we were starting out in online genealogy.

What a day!

Another positive I would like to share is

That although I’ve had less time for genealogy this year, thanks to my lovely new job and also taking my creative writing a step further, I’ve made some big steps and laid the groundwork for future research when I’ve more time.

And the brilliant genealogy community is thriving out there, full of friendship, facts and fun. So here’s to 2015, and here’s to the people who never forget lang syne!


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A Christmas tale pt 2: The first Celestina

Welcome back for the second part of our Christmas tale. Last time we met little Celestina Christmas, a ‘visitor’ at the Harringtons’ house in Hackney when the 1851 census was taken.

I began to wonder about Celestina. I’ve got quite a few brick walls surrounding my Harrington ancestors, so it seemed sensible to look at their FANs, or friends and neighbours. Where better to start than with this little girl?

Gwynns Pl 3

Gwynn’s Place now. No 2 is above the black-painted shop

What I found threw up some interesting information about the Harrington family. But more than that – I discovered the story of a murder which, in the 1850s, was notorious around the world.

The first surprise was that there was more than one Celestina Christmas. There was the one who was at 2 Gwynn’s Place, Hackney Rd, on the night of the 1851 census. And there was her mother, who had the same name.

So let’s start with the older one. Celestina Elizabeth Christmas was born on 1 July 1827 to a well-off family. Her father, William Foster Christmas, was a silversmith living in King Sq in Finsbury, a little south and east of fashionable Islington. He and his wife Elizabeth had three of their children baptised on the same day, 19 July, 1829: Emma Mary, born in 1825; Celestina; and Alfred Robert, born on 18 May, 1829. Perhaps they’d waited for a boy to be born before bothering with a baptism. They already had an older son, William, born in 1821.

King Sq

King Sq in the 1820s (Greenwood’s map) *

There’s little evidence of what sort of childhood Celestina had. It was probably fairly comfortable, given her father’s profession. She could write, and what’s more she could sing, and must have had lessons because she went on to take part in professional concerts.

She was probably well-read, and later on in life may well have gone to performances of Shakespeare’s plays. We know she was slightly built, pretty, with fair hair and a pale complexion.

But something was missing. Parental love? Guidance? Someone to care for her? Who knows. Because in March 1845, when Celestina was 17, something unthinkable happened. Something which would change her life for ever and lead to a terrible tragedy. The pretty, talented young girl from a respectable family, who would most likely make a good marriage, was – in the eyes of all Victorians – ruined.

Celestina was unmarried – and pregnant.

* Greenwood’s map of London, 1830, via Motco

Read the rest of A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

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A Christmas tale: part 1

Welcome, friends and neighbours. Take a seat near the fire. Help yourself to some punch, or tea, and of course a slice of this fine cake.

The sun’s set this Christmas Day and, as you know, in the time of our ancestors this was when people gathered round the fire to tell stories. Often ghost stories. And the Christmas tale I have to tell has many grisly moments. But it certainly is a story about a Christmas.

Picture the scene. It’s Sunday, 30 March, 1851 in a small house in Gwynn’s Place, Hackney Road, in the poor area of Bethnal Green, east London. Are we getting a whiff of Dickens?

1851 census cuThe Harrington family  is being enumerated for the new census. There are my 3x great-grandparents, Thomas, a local man, hard and muscled from his work as a dock labourer. His wife Julia, a year older, from Ireland originally but with her bloom worn off by childcare and misfortune. And their girls, Hannah, a dressmaker aged 16, schoolgirl Rebecca, 14, and little Celestina Christina, 5.

Or… that’s what you’d think, looking at some transcriptions and family trees. But look more closely.

1851 census CelestinaThat’s right, it’s not Celestina Christina, it’s Celestina Christmas. A different surname. She’s a visitor. A cousin or a friend’s little girl, perhaps. She’s too young to be 14-year-old Rebecca’s playmate.

Well, that was the end of the story of Celestina for me, for a while. I was too preoccupied with finding Gwynn’s Place (I did) and working out just when and how Rebecca, my great-grandmother, left Hackney for New South Wales (I haven’t yet).

But Celestina, as we’ll find out, may be easy to put away, but not so easy to keep hidden.

Refill your glasses, friends, and come back soon to find out just what I mean by that…

Read the rest of A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

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Festive family freebies

The Shoestring Genealogist has just popped in to make sure you know that Ancestry (UK) has free access to all records until 23.59 GMT on Boxing Day. See here for what you can search.

And Boxing Day sees the start of Findmypast’s Start Your Family Tree Week. If you haven’t got a UK subscription, they’re offering 1 month for £1, which is a fantastic rate. I’d take it up myself if I hadn’t already got a half-price UK sub.

And now the offer is back! Half-price subs to the four FMPs – UK, Ireland, the US and Australia/NZ. The only links I’ve found so far are in the latest Lost Cousins newsletter.

Thanks all! The holiday season has just got merrier. I hope yours is going well.


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2104 Christmas genealogy meme

Ah, the Christmas holidays. Time off work and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio (a Christmas Eve tradition for many in the UK).

What better time to catch up with my geneapals around the world and give my blog a present – a post about a lovely seasonal geneameme thought up by well-known Aussie geneablogger Sharn White at Family History 4U?

Let’s jump straight in – it’s a long ‘un!

What kind of Christmas did you have as a child?

A family Christmas, sometimes with a friend to stay or coming round for dinner – turkey, Christmas pudding, sprouts, the lot.

Where did you spend Christmas?

photo: my grandfather and me

Pop (Laurence Thomas Delaney) and me – my first Christmas

For the first three years of my life, when we lived in Baghdad, Christmas was going back to England to stay with my grandfather, or Pop, as I called him. I don’t remember these times, but he gave me a lovely photo of both of us to remember him by.

Then, apart from one Christmas in Toronto, it was always at home with the family.

The Christmas tree

When I was little and we lived in a flat it was a tiny silver artificial tree, with coloured glass baubles to put on it. Later, when we moved into a house, we had the real thing, with all the joy of that pine smell, and the needles which you only stopped finding in furniture, carpets and clothes by November.

We were quite traditional and put the tree up on Christmas Eve, taking it down on Twelfth Night.

Decorating the tree

Oh, the best part of Christmas Eve! First we wound it round with lights, which often didn’t work, and then Dad had to check every bulb to find the one which had broken the circuit and stopped the rest working…

Then came the string of multicoloured glass beads, then the argument discussion about tinsel or no tinsel, and then – the dangly bits! I don’t know if they were called baubles in those days.

We had old, old glass globes, which were very fragile but looked so lovely. I’d put them near lights so they’d sparkle their beauty more brightly.

Old family Christmas decorations

Old family Christmas decorations

As the years went by, we added more. The paper snowflakes and silver star I made at school, two clip-on birds, some traditional wooden toys, a fabric decoration my sister made, new (plastic) globes to replace the glass ones when they broke, sometimes sweets. They all lived in a box in the attic and each year we children wrote a message on the box. Unwrapping each one from its tissue paper nest was a treasure-hunt every Christmas Eve.

When we got a kitten we discovered that cats love Christmas trees, too. How she enjoyed climbing it to make sure that the shiny dangling things were arranged just right…

Christmas cards

My mother wrote all the cards sent from the family (surprise!) but we added our names to them. Inside the family, Mum and Dad preferred home-made ones, so every Christmas I racked my brain to come up with new ideas for pictures to draw on the front.

Cards were put up on the sitting room and dining room mantlepieces and around the mirrors, and once those were filled up we hung them from strings or ribbons. I can’t remember what we did with them later. This was before recycling was widespread. I think I might have cut some up to use as gift tags.

Christmas stockings

Oh, yes! The excitement of that brightly-coloured felt stocking my Mum made, sitting at the end of the bed, with all those mysterious, promise-filled bulges! We had our ‘big’ present under the tree, to open before Christmas dinner, but the thrill of discovering what was in the little carefully-wrapped parcels was wonderful.

A bit of furniture for my doll’s house, a game, a book, a magic trick, gold chocolate coins in a piratical-looking bag… at the time it was magic, but now I think of all the thought and effort Mother Christmas put into filling my stocking and I wonder how she did it…

Christmas presents

After the terrible shock of discovering that Father Christmas was really my parents (the trauma! My dolls and I were horrified!), most of my presents were from family members.

Did I make any myself? Jewellery for schoolfriends, yes, but I can’t remember any particular hand-made present for my family, though I’m sure there were many when I was small. I do remember giving my father (notoriously difficult to get presents for, since he said he had everything he wanted) books of vouchers I made – for washing the car, for example. Probably just what he always wanted.

My favourite Christmas present

Ooh, tough, this one. My parents asked me what I wanted (within reason), so they were all favourites at the time. Perhaps one doll, who was lifelike and completely beautiful, and who I adored. But then again, I think books were the best because they gave me whole new worlds to live in, and paper friends to go back to whenever I wanted.

… and the Christmas present I never got

A bicycle. The roads were just too dangerous where we lived. So I never did get a bike.

Christmas food

flaming xmas pudding

CC by

Living (mostly) in the UK, we had very traditional Christmas food. Mince pies on Christmas Eve – later on, making them became one of my Christmas jobs. A huge dinner at about one, with turkey, roast potatoes, sprouts, two kinds of stuffing (a Mum special) and then… drumroll… just when we thought we were full to bursting, the lights went out and Dad (Mum, after his death) emerged from the kitchen with a flaming Christmas pudding. Somehow we all found a tiny bit more room and ate the rich moist pudding with brandy butter. Making the brandy butter was hard work, but if you did it you were allowed to scrape the mixing bowl.

A special Christmas recipe

I went on making mince pies – the mincemeat and pastry, everything – until recently, when my late partner became too ill to swallow them.

The recipe I wish I had was my grandmother’s one for Christmas cake. Goodness, but she could bake. She passed the recipe on to my mother, her daughter-in-law. It was rich, moist and (in my mother’s version) well fed with brandy. The best in the world. But sadly I don’t know where Mum kept it – perhaps in her head. I wish I’d written it down. (How often do we find ourselves saying that?)

Christmas traditions

slade 1

“So here it is, Merry Christmas!” Slade on TotP, CC University of Salford. Were my parents right?

I suppose every family that observes it has its own Christmas traditions, evolving over the years. Ours were fairly run-of-the-mill: dressing the tree on Christmas Eve and taking it down on Twelfth Night; opening presents around the tree at about 11 o’clock; that Dickensian dinner at one. I had the job of taking photos after Dad died. I wonder where they’ve got to?

Then there was Top of the Pops on the telly in the afternoon, with the parents making the traditional parental comments about horrible noise and turn that down. And then a cuppa and a slice of glorious Christmas cake at tea time. We sang carols round the tree and there were phone calls to make to friends and family far away.

The next few days were about eating leftovers (oh, yum!) and writing thank-you letters (“Ohh, Mum!”).

Christmas music

Music was always part of Christmas in my childhood. Carols at school, which I still know by heart. Parodies of carols I wrote for my friends, some of which I remember. Carols round the tree with various rates of success and not a few giggles. I love carols.

My favourite Christmas carol

This is another tough one. I moved from Away in a Manger to the ones with glorious tunes like Angels from the Realms of Glory and O Come O Come Emmanuel as well as the ones which are fun to sing, like Hark the Herald Angels Sing and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. But I think my favourite is Adeste Fideles, or O Come All Ye Faithful, because of the intriguing story behind it.

Christmas concerts/plays

I was in a Christmas concert when I was five. Or was it a pantomime? I can’t remember. All I do recall is that Mum sewed a felt number on my nightie (we were playing numbers. No, I don’t know why, either). She said that when I came on stage I looked for my parents, didn’t see them, and my eyes flashed fire. Well, if it’s true, at least I didn’t burst into tears…

At senior school I was in the school play. It was so much fun, though I didn’t enjoy learning my lines. My favourite role was in The Admirable Crichton, by JM Barrie. I played Lady Brocklehurst, a formidable dowager who would have given Lady Bracknell a run for her considerable money. I’d wanted to play Tweenie, the maid (truer to my roots?), but Lady B was a fab cameo part.

Christmas holidays

What were they like? Cold. Snow, usually after Christmas, so that meant making snowmen and avoiding snowballs. Just the weather for snuggling up with a book.

That’s my geneameme. Thanks, Sharn! Do have a look at her post and follow the links to the other Christmas geneameme answers.

I’ll be coming back over the holiday period with a true Christmas story I discovered during my genealogy researches this year. Be warned – it’s not a cosy tale.

Now all that’s left to do this Christmas Eve is to wish you and those you love a very


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Irish research – online parish registers from NLI for 2015

The world of Irish genealogy and family history is ablaze with the news that the National Library of Ireland (NLI) is to make its collection of Catholic parish register microfilms available online – and free!

The NLI’s press release, reproduced by Chris Paton in his must-read British GENES blog, explains their singificance:

The records are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 Census. Dating from the 1740s to the 1880s, they cover 1,091 parishes throughout Ireland, and consist primarily of baptismal and marriage records.

However this won’t be an Ancestry/Findmypast experience, with easy(ish) search, index and transcriptions:

The 390,000 digital images due to be published by the NLI will be searchable by parish location only. They will not be transcribed or indexed by the NLI, and the images will be of the microfilms of the original registers, which – in some cases – were in poor condition when the microfilming took place. The images will be in black and white.

The news was broken on the Irish Times online site by another must-read, John Grenham, in his Irish Roots column. He says:

The Library’s aim is to reproduce on the internet the service already available to the public in the microfilm reading room in Kildare Street in Dublin, where images of 98 per cent of parish registers before 1880 can already be viewed by anybody.

So we’ll have to do a lot of work to get our results. But what an opportunity! And, as John Grenham says, “Clearly, once these images are… easily available… swarms of transcribers will descend.” Who knows what the results may be?

Many thanks to the NLI, to John Grenham for getting the news out so quickly, and to Chris Paton for making the press release available and for tweeting about it.

Thanks, too, to Joyce from the irl-wexford-request list for reminding us about the NLI’s existing information on their Catholic parish registers holdings.

Photo of statue of Billy Byrne, Wicklow, Co Wicklow

Statue of Billy Byrne, Wicklow

I had a look at their records from the Diocese of Ferns, which includes Carnew, and saw that the baptism records start in January 1785, too late for Nicholas Delaney (born around 1772). Marriages start in 1893, and deaths in 1894. Still, I may find something that will point me towards other members of his family who were alive in 1798: his (nameless) mother and his Uncle Patrick. Or perhaps I might discover a younger sibling or cousin.

And it’ll be good to have another site to add to my list of free online history and genealogy resources over on the A Rebel Hand website. The Shoestring Genealogist is very happy!

As with many of the good things in life, we’ll have to wait for this exciting present from the NLI. Until summer 2015, to be precise. But the general buzz on social media is that it’ll be worth waiting for.

It’s a bit like being a child and having to w-a-i-t all those long cold days of December to find out whether you’re going to get the Christmas present you were promised. Except that we know we’re getting our gift – it’s just a question of exactly what’s in that exciting bundle that we won’t know until next summer.

Can you bear waiting? What do you hope the NLI elves will bring you?

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